YA Fantasy Showdown

Lessa vs. Goranu - Kara Dalkey Edition!

Goranu awoke, un-tucking his head from under his black wing. He heard wind through pine-tops and felt a cool breeze. He jerked up with alarm. This was not his hut in his village. He was perched on a branch in....some other place. Blinking his sleep away, he noted a circle of tall, grey cliffs, surrounding the pines that encircled a large, bare clearing. Above the cliffs, the sky was obscured by fog. Goranu was familiar enough with worlds-outside. He could create them himself for short periods of time. But this was different, more solid, no mere trick of the mind. There was a scroll tacked up on one of the trees at the edge of the clearing. Goranu glided down to look at it, changing to human form just before his feet hit the ground...

Lessa awoke, feeling a cool breeze on her face and smelling the scent of pine. I am outdoors, she thought dreamily, and then she snapped to awareness. She was no longer in the warmth of Benden Weyr.. Leaping to her feet, Lessa drew a knife from her belt and spun. The only things that surrounded her were tall fir trees. And Ramoth. At least Ramoth was there with her.

Where are we? Lessa asked through their psychic connection. Did you bring us here?

Not I, Ruatha said. This is other-space. Beyond our home?

“A pocket universe?” Lessa said aloud. “This isn’t a Thread manifestation. Who would do this. Who could do this?”

Maybe that one knows, Ramoth said, pointing with her snout at something past the trees. Lessa strode through the little grove and found a broad clearing. A curiously long-nosed young man in a black robe with wide sleeves was studying a  croll on a tree. Lessa marched toward him...

Out of the corner of his eye, Goranu saw someone walk out from under the trees to his right–a small, determined woman with long, black hair. For a moment his heart leaped, but no, she was not his beloved Mitsuko. As she neared, he saw hard calculation in her face and surmised this was one who had seen harsh times. She was not to be underestimated.

“Who are you?” she demanded as she came up to him, a knife in the hand at her side. “And where are we?”

“Strange,” mused Goranu. “You are not speaking my language and yet I understand you.”

“I don’t have time for nonsense,” growled the woman.

“Pity, I always do. I am Prince Goranu of Redwing village in the Empire of Nihon,”he said with a polite bow. “And, given what this scroll declares, I surmise you must be Lady Lessa of Pern.”

“I am,” she said warily. “Does the scroll say why we are here?”

“It would seem,” Goranu said with an airy sigh, “the gods are playing games with us.”

“What do you mean?”

He turned and read from the scroll:

Goranu of Nihon and Lessa of Pern__
shall in this place battle for half-an-hour.
Their actions shall be judged.
Once a winner is declared, all shall go home.

“Well, that seems clear enough,” said Goranu. He raised his arms up and cried. “I am the victor! There. That was simple. ‘A winner has been declared’. We can go home now.”

The woman scowled as they waited long moments in silence. “Apparently the Greater Powers are not impressed with your declaration."

Goranu shrugged. “It was worth a try.”

Lessa looked the young man over. Though it was difficult to tell through his voluminous robe, he didn’t seem terribly muscular. “Look, if you like we can wrestle. I can best you quickly and I’ll try not to hurt you too much.”

The young man stared back at her, his pride obviously stung. “Honorable Opponent, it is not my way to manhandle or physically harm a lady. And I do not...wrestle.” He said the word as if it were vaguely distasteful.

A chill anger flowed over her. Lessa hated being patronized. “Do you think we must draw blood, then?” she said, holding up her knife. “I can leave most of your major organs and sinews intact.”

Goranu’s eyes widened for a moment, then narrowed. “Do not mistake my manners for weakness, Lady. I will defend myself against any who wish me harm. I should warn you, I am a tengu, and in my world we are trained in magic and skilled fighting arts. You may have a sharp little knife, but I...” he held out his arm and a long, slim, curve-bladed weapon appeared in his right hand. “I have a fine tachi sword. If you have nothing else, perhaps you should accept that
you have lost and tell our watchers so.“

Lessa flashed him a grim smile and whistled loud and shrill. Come out now, she thought to her companion. Ramoth pushed her way through the tree, bellowing a sulfurous war cry. To his credit, Prince Goranu stood his ground, though he blinked and gulped in surprise.

“You...have a dragon,” he said at last.

“Indeed,”said Lessa, sweetly. “Therefore perhaps it is you who should yield and allow me to declare myself the winner.”

Goranu swallowed hard but he wasn’t about to show fear to this flinty lady. “Oh, not at all. We have dragons in my world too, though not with such pretty golden scales as this one. Some of my best...well, I have a dragon acquaintance or two and tengu do fight them on occasion. I am not as impressed as I expect you hoped I would be.”

The woman looked meaningfully at her reptilian companion. Suddenly the dragon’s fanged maw was descending toward Goranu’s head.

“Ai!” he cried and leaped into the air, changing to raven-shape just in time to dart out of the way of the snapping jaws. He perched on top of the dragon’s golden snout and beat at its eyes with his wings. “Eyah! Eyah! Take that! And that!” The dragon roared and shook its head, trying to fling him off.

Goranu let go and flew into the ring of trees, picking a perch right next to the cliff wall. Before the dragon could blink its sight back into focus, he cried “Over here! Over here!” Every tengu knows that an enraged dragon is a stupid dragon and true to form, Lessa’s companion ran straight through the trees, careening to a crumpled collision with the cliff face.
Goranu chuckled and flew over over the clearing to the other side. “Over here! Over here!” he cried.

The dragon moaned and turned to lumber after him.

“Ramoth, no!” Lessa shouted.

To Goranu’s utter disappointment the dragon obeyed her and slid to a stop in the clearing, though its glare showed it still hungered to catch him. So she can control it. Well, that’s hardly any fun.

With a sigh, he realized this strange duel in some god-spawned speck of space was not his idea of amusement at all. If they continued, someone was likely to get hurt and it might even be him. Besides, tengu never quailed at thumbing their beaks at authority, whether it be kami or bhodisattva. He felt strangely dispirited. Perhaps I should play the gentleman and allow the lady to declare herself the champion..

Goranu glanced toward the clearing. Lessa’s head was bent, face in her hands, deep in concentration. That...that woman is bending my thoughts!

Is it working? Lessa asked Ramoth.

I think you have upset him.

Suddenly a raucous cry erupted from the trees. “Yawwwwww!” The tengu in raven form dove toward her head and raked its claws through her hair. As he beat his wings to ascend again, he yanked strands of her hair out. Lessa teared up at the sharp, unexpected pain and slashed uselessly with her knife. “Shards! Scorch it!”

Should I breathe fire at the trees?

No, by the Egg, the smoke would suffocate us all. Just bite his head off!

Happy to. More cautious now, Ramoth waited while the silly bird flitted around, for the right moment. Suddenly she snapped, catching the raven’s feet between her front fangs. With a toss of her head, Ramoth opened her jaws and caught the tengu lightly on her tongue..

Goranu slid down the long, slimy tongue, changing to man-form, bracing his feet against the back fangs before he hit the throat. In an eye-blink, he summoned his tachi sword and put the sharp tip against the palate, ready to stab up into the reptile’s brain. “If your dragon bites down,” he shouted to Lessa, “we both will die. Is that what you want?”

A long moment passed. A long moment with Goranu fighting nausea as he breathed the dragon’s foul, sulfurous exhalations.

“Ramoth...” Lessa began.

A chime resounded through the clearing. “The contest is ended,” said an androgynous, almost disinterested voice.

“Prepare for the victor to be chosen.”

“Not a moment too soon!” said Goranu, almost mad with relief.

With a groan, the dragon carefully knelt down, laying its jaw on the ground.

As swift as he could, Goranu lowered his sword and rolled out of the dragon’s mouth. He jumped up and examined his soggy sleeves. “Your beast has ruined my best hakima!”

“It could have been worse,” said Lessa strolling up to the tree bearing the scroll.

Goranu looked aside at her. “Were you going to order Ramoth to bite?”

“I guess you’ll always have to wonder that won’t you?”

“Uuusss,” hissed Goranu, giving her a little bow. Lessa bowed back.

They both turned to face the scroll and await their judgement.